25 Mar 2024
by Kathy Liu

Why we need non-tech talent in the UK cyber talent pipeline

Kathy Liu, Founder of Inclusive Cyber, takes us through her journey from the humanities to cybersecurity, and why cyber needs to hire from non-tech backgrounds  

According to the Cyber security skills in the UK labour market findings report 2023, there is a need for 13,500 new hires each year to meet the cyber talent demand. At the same time, the diversity of the cyber sector workforce has remained the same year to year. People from ethnic minority backgrounds make up 22% of the workforce, and women make up just 17%.  

The report found that diversity was predominantly seen by responders in terms of gender and ethnicity. Only a couple mentioned educational backgrounds. But we should precisely be looking more at diversity through the latter lens.  

The importance of non-IT talent  

Back in 2018, it was another statistic that caught my eye - according to ISC2, 70% of cyber talent come from an IT background. No one was asking non-IT students to join the cyber workforce. So I decided to.  

The UK Parliament’s 2023 Diversity and Inclusion in STEM report finds “that women, people from certain ethnic backgrounds, people with disabilities, those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and those who declared themselves as being LGBTQ+ were under-represented in some areas of STEM education…” Hence, if we predominantly hire cybersecurity talent from IT and STEM education backgrounds, there is a knock on effect. Furthermore, by doing so not only are we not closing the talent gap by tapping into a wider talent pool, we are actually risking the cybersecurity posture of our entire ecosystem by not bringing diverse thinking to challenge assumptions and find blind spots.  

My own journey and Inclusive Cyber  

I founded Inclusive Cyber 5 years ago through the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community to build a global cyber talent pipeline that is as diverse as the cyber challenges we will face. Back then, it was a gritty grassroots project driven by my own personal experiences pivoting from an atypical background in the humanities towards cybersecurity.  

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When I first tried to make ‘the big move’, I couldn’t find a single job description that looked for someone with my background or set of skills, despite cybersecurity not being just a technical topic, but very much about the people and processes. I therefore decided to own my difference, and positioned my humanities skills as a differentiator to the cyber field. It worked.  

Today, Inclusive Cyber is a global movement spanning London, Montréal and Kigali.  It mobilises overlooked talent from non-STEM degrees (e.g., Fine Arts, Literature, Social Sciences) to break into cyber careers through leveraging existing skills, benchmarked to NIST’s National Initiative for Cyber Education (NICE) framework. This way, we give students a standardised language to reframe the value of their transferable skills. The linkages were always surprising, from Fine Arts students interpreting art in its relevant social context to Literature students determining credible sources, these are all necessary skills in cybersecurity.  

As the jobs of tomorrow are changing rapidly, the only constant is ensuring we have a learning mindset and that we stay nimble with our transferable skills.  

Our Calls to Action 

  • For students: Map out your transferable skills, you would then be surprised at the different career possibilities available to you 

  • For enterprises: Make your cyber job post language more inclusive, experiment with hiring practices that make your workplace more enticing to atypical and underrepresented talent   

  • For policymakers: Help us continue to bring the youth voice to your decision-making table, and keep cyber workforce development top of your agenda 

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Kathy Liu

Kathy Liu

Founder, Inclusive Cyber, World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community

Kathy Liu is a cybersecurity leader and founder of Inclusive Cyber, the World Economic Forum Global Shaper initiative to build a diverse cyber talent pipeline that reflects the society we live in. Presently she leads digital sovereignty at Amazon Web Services (AWS). A global headline speaker and published OpEd writer, Kathy holds the UK Global Talent visa for exceptional tech talent.